Writing Part 8: Six Traits of Writing and Descriptive Model

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

This will be the final part of my writing series. The focus today is on the Six Traits of Writing. The six traits are a tool for teaching writing, leading to a quality product.  They are not an organizational model (such as Four Square).  This model was originally developed by the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory in Oregon. Here is a link to their website which includes more resources, definitions, and research:  http://educationnorthwest.org/traits/

I will refer to the six traits, although Education Northwest added a seventh trait (presentation) and titles it “Six + 1 Trait Writing.” Keep reading to find some FREE RESOURCES.

So what are the Six Traits that define quality writing?  See full definitions by clicking HERE:

  • Ideas:  This is the main message or topic.
    • The message is written clearly.
    • It is interesting and shows understanding of the topic.
  • Organization:  This is the structure of the piece. Connections are strong.
    • Everything written links to the message.
    • A good beginning and ending grab the reader.
    • Organization is evident. (Link to text structures of sequence, compare-contrast, description, problem-solution, and cause-effect.)
  • Sentence Fluency:  This is the flow and rhythm of the writing.
    • Varied sentence beginnings and lengths.
    • Does it sound smooth and interesting, showing good use of transitions?
    • Are some words emphasized for effect?
  • Voice:  This is the writer’s personal tone coming through.
    • The writing sounds like the author.
    • The author’s feelings and style come through the writing.
    • It shows sincerity, honesty, and conviction.
  • Word Choice:  This is the vocabulary the author chooses. 
    • Selects the best words to fit the author and the message.
    • Does not repeat words too many times.
    • Replaces overused words.  (Search for “Said is Dead” on Pinterest.)
    • Natural, but precise and vivid.
    • Might include well-placed figurative language.
  • Conventions:  This is the mechanical correctness – the rules of language. Expectations should be based on grade level lessons and standards.
    • Spelling
    • Grammar
    • Punctuation
    • Capitalization
  • Presentation (the +1 trait):  This is how the writing looks on the page – the overall appearance.
    • text or font
    • neatness / handwriting
    • graphics
    • spacing and borders

Click HERE for a link for Six Traits books on Amazon.

Interested in some posters? Here are two sets I found that have graphics and brief description of what students should think about when applying the traits – easy to read and nice displays.

Tips for helping students apply the six traits in the classroom:

  1. It takes time! And, I know you want to see all of these traits utilized and integrated within a student’s piece, but start with one you feel students most need to work on. Some of the traits are embedded in the list of mini-lessons I wrote about in Writing Part 7.
  2. Don’t evaluate for all six traits when you grade (unless it’s the final edited version). Select one to tell students you will be watching for – one you have been working on. I had a stamp that said, “This piece of writing is being graded for ______.” If we redline everything, students will not want to write anymore. And if we only grade for conventions, we are missing all of the other traits. I’m sure you can identify the students in your class who show good word choice and voice, but would score poorly if only graded on the conventions. The stamp also helped parents know what was being evaluated and understand why I didn’t correct misspelled words on that particular piece, for example.
  3. See the website above (Education Northwest) for rubrics which will help you evaluate each trait on a 1-6 scale (1-3 is not-proficient and 4-6 are in the proficient range). There are separate rubrics for KG-2 and 3rd-6th. The books I referenced on Amazon also have good rubrics. Or contact me – I have a variety.
  4. Share stories that emphasize the traits you are trying to help students use. Here is a PDF of a list of trade books that emphasize some of the traits. There are primary and intermediate levels listed. However, don’t discount the picture books for use with 3rd-6th grade students. In this pdf, there is not a book list for the trait of conventions – presumably because any book could be utilized for this purpose.
  5. Another book list from edec.org (26 pages).

Descriptive Writing Help (grades 3 and up)

I am attaching another FREEBIE.  This form actually helps students write more descriptive sentences by using vivid verbs and adding adjectives and adverbs in a 6-step format. It will require you to collect a few pictures or photos to write about. Select ones that are uncomplicated with a single subject. One of the pictures I used for the example below showed one moose standing in some water. My picture collection came from National Geographic and calendars – but there are also excellent choices on clip art.

  1. Write a simple subject and predicate.
    • Example: The moose stood.
  2. Write some adverbs to tell how, where, and/or when about the verb.
    • Example: The moose stood peacefully in the lake at dawn.
  3. Try a different word order to find another way you might prefer.
    • Example:  At dawn, the moose stood peacefully in the lake.
  4. List some adjectives that could describe your subject. Choose 2 to add in front of the subject of the sentence.
    • Moose:  tall, brown, furry, bored, lonely, Alaskan
    • Example:  The lonely, Alaskan moose stood peacefully in the lake at dawn.
  5. List some adjectives that could describe the noun in the predicate of the sentence (lake).
    • Lake:  shallow, reflective, sparkling
    • Example:  The lonely, Alaskan moose stood peacefully in the shallow, reflective lake at dawn.
  6. Use a thesaurus if needed to replace overused words.
  7. Your sentence is done!

Enjoy your writing experiences!!  Share some of them with me!

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